Thursday, April 02, 2009

The final sad demise of SGI

SGI was one of the innovators in the computer world, and they had some unique and exciting technology all the way to the end, but they were never well managed and had a habit of making the wrong move at the wrong time. When the Internet happened, they decided just as the demand for Internet servers was taking off that they would stop selling network servers and then spent all their cash building a gigantic headquarter complex that is now the Googleplex. When massively parallel NUMA architectures powered by Unix became popular replacements for Cray supercomputers, they decided they would stop selling NUMA Unix servers and instead buy Cray and start selling generic Windows NT powered servers. When massively parallel Linux clusters on the x86-64 architecture created by AMD with the Opteron became popular, they decided to instead sell massively parallel Linux clusters on the Intel Itanium architecture that was about as popular as George W. Bush. In the process they racked up three bankruptcies and emerged from each as a shell of what had been before. And the Itanium disaster led to their latest bankruptcy.

And that, alas, was the end of the line -- the final assets are being sold off, the company shut down forever. Now comes the last humiliation: last remaining pieces of SGI to be bought at bankruptcy auction for $25M by vendor of rack-mounted badge-labeled Dell servers. And yes, Rackable Systems sells rack-mounted badge-labeled Dell servers (though to be fair, they sell other stuff too). I know that for a fact because I've seen one of Rackable's 1U modules, and it is exactly identical to the 1U modules that one of my former employers sells, which I know is a badge-labeled Dell that happens to be running their own variant of Linux.

So how did the leader in Unix workstations fall to this point -- that their corpse is picked over by vendors of generic Linux servers? Massive Fail over a period of fifteen years, that's all you can say. It's sad, because they had great technology. But even great technology can't survive that kind of massive fail for that many years...

-- Badtux the Geeky Penguin

2 comments:

  1. *sigh*, too. SGI was a powerhouse that sparked many things that put many things on the table that now ae commonplace. SGI put 3D modeling on a desk when nobody else would. They combined unique visual design with outstandig product design.

    Just gave an old IRIS Indigo to a student who restores old Unix boxes as a hobby. This is a 1987 box, and just to look at the mechanical and electronic handiwork is awe enspiring.

    Unfortunately, SGI are not the only ones who did not manage to keep up with ernergibg trends they themselves had sparked. Esp. why anybody ever chose Itanium (or the Itanic, as I like to call that underperforming dung heap) is a miytery to me. I remember a road map presentation by HP about three years ago, where they compared PA-RISC 64-bit to AMD and to Itanium (you guess it, they chose the big I). The presentation was menat to justify that choice, but I told the presenter that all I had seen were strong reasons to keep PA-RISC and consider spreading out to AMD and ccNuma (PA-RISC used to be a bit of a pain with SMP).

    Well, not all is bad. My old friend NeXTStep came back in the form of Macs (just put my second iMac on my home desk, and that rocks. I´ll even bear having an Intel CPU, if it comes with that software.), SUN still turns out unique products both with x86 and their various SPARC flavours. IBM did the right things now for a while with a solid entrenchment in LinuX and the ongoing development of the POWER.

    But it is sometimes annoying and disappointing that some great sparks take so long to grow into flames in an industry that should be all about innovation and technical excellence.

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